James Hammontree speaks with ReGen on the latest developments in Black Magnet’s rise through the industrial/metal ranks.
An InterView with James Hammontree of Black Magnet
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
For more than five years, James Hammontree has been honing and refining his own brand of mechanized fury with Black Magnet. Over the course of two acclaimed albums, a self-titled EP, and the most recent “Birth” single, the band has evolved from a solo endeavor into a fully-fledged group whose members all offer vital creative functionality to what is becoming one of the more exciting and established acts in modern industrial/metal. Themes revolve around the dichotomies inherent in modern society – courage in the face of hopelessness, the consequences of bridging the artificial with the organic, the devaluing of human beings of different castes vs. the strength of diversity. Simply put, Black Magnet is a band for the times, and ReGen Magazine is thrilled to have had the opportunity to speak with Hammontree on the group’s latest developments – from the formation of the current lineup to the challenges of touring, from the disparities in industrial and metal to the current state of the music industry.
First of all, how are you? How is your health?
Hammontree: Doing good overall, staying extremely busy with music and teaching music. Health is good! Working out regularly. Working with new daily affirmations and mind metaphysic techniques that have greatly improved my creativity and day to day life.
The ‘Birth’ single was recorded by the current band lineup, whereas the past material was mostly you with collaborators. Would you tell us first how this lineup first came together?
Working solo granted you a certain freedom and purity of vision; in what ways do you feel that working with the full band on the new single improved upon or at least evolved that vision?
What was your songwriting process? Did songs begin with the electronics/beats first, or the guitars, or was it more nuanced than that?
With the ‘Birth’ single and Black Magnet’s current songwriting, how has the process changed with the band? Do you all participate, or are you still the driving force?
The new single saw you working with Mycal Soto, whereas you worked with Sanford Parker on the Hallucination Scene and Body Prophecy albums; how would you compare their two styles with regards to helping you achieve the sound you were reaching for with Black Magnet’s music on their respective releases?
Hammontree: Mycal Soto is probably the best local engineer within our area with an understanding of our style. He plays in the band Peelingflesh and records most of the local metal and hardcore bands in Oklahoma City. Instead of traveling to record just two songs, we decided to go with him, though our next full-length will probably be recorded with Sanford Parker again. Soto has a great sense of how modern metal is recorded, so we chose two of our more metal songs to record with him. Some of the newer songs have a lot more synth and electronics happening that Sanford will thrive at engineering.
Black Magnet is often characterized as industrial/metal and you’ve shared the stage with a number of artists that seem to present a new wave of the sound – Author & Punisher, Fact Pattern, etc. I’ve long held a belief that the concept of ‘genre’ in music is becoming obsolete. What are your thoughts on this? What do you find to be the validity of such categorizations?
Hammontree: I totally agree with that, especially more as time goes on and genres get smashed together. There’s nothing more boring than a newer band playing by the rules of a previously established classic band or genre, no matter how crucial or important they were. At this point in time, there is so much music out there, it seems ridiculous to be just inspired by something so narrow.
On the other hand, while industrial/metal is nothing new, there does still seem to be a distinct divide between the two worlds, bridged only by those ‘niche’ bands that seem more rooted in one or the other. What does industrial music mean to you?
Hammontree: To me, the term ‘industrial’ defines more of a sonic palette and sound instrumentation rather than a genre. As technology develops, the capability for all music grows and grows, and it’s something that should be expanded on and not narrowed down.
What are your perceptions on the two scenes – metal and industrial – and how the two have evolved, both separately and collectively?
From a production standpoint, what have you found to be the most difficult factor in balancing the human element with the machines – both in terms of recording in the studio and performing in live?
What do you see as the next necessary step in the development of technologies geared toward the experience of music (again, both live and in the studio)? What would you like to see happen?
Your previous releases were with 20 Buck Spin. What are your thoughts on the traditional models of releasing music and how it applies to you? Moving forward, do you think we will still be bound to record labels?
Hammontree: I think that releasing with a label and independently both have their place. I love being able to release random singles I record locally and dropping songs between albums, but on the other hand, I really like reserving studio quality songs for full albums for a label release that will have wider physical and digital distribution. I look at it the same way you would look at a drawing verses a large scale oil painting at a museum – there’s room for everything in between. I love the idea of people in their bedrooms recording absolute bangers and being able to put them online for everyone to hear in the same way I love huge high production well-refined studio albums. They all of their place.
Each Black Magnet released has had different cover art, and each video has had a somewhat different (though always frenetic) aesthetic. What is your philosophy around the visual presentation of Black Magnet and how it complements or strengthens the music?
What do you feel are the major lessons we learned in the wake of the pandemic? Or to put it another way, what do you feel artists, labels, venues, the industry as a whole should take away from the experience and use or think about going forward?
Hammontree: Honestly, I would say that the pandemic is an example of how much your future and path is in your own hands. The power is in the hands of the artist and no one else. Everyone responded in so many different ways, but in the end, everyone took it into their own hands, for better for worse. Also, time and money are vital; don’t waste it. Learning that you can’t repeat the same behavior and expect new outcomes is probably the major lesson I learned.
Outside of music, what do you most enjoy? Hiking, reading, movies, sports, gaming, etc.? What is giving you the most joy now?
Hammontree: I cook a ton, so learning off the wall regional recipes is something I deeply enjoy. I love oil painting, but it takes a lot of time and patience. I fish a lot, so fishing to catch and cook different species is a lot of fun. My parents have a house in Colorado, so I do a lot of hiking and camping there – as primitive as possible. In the next year, I’m moving to a rural area with a lot of land, so I plan on gardening pretty extensively. I teach music for a living, and on my breaks, I teach myself new instruments. I wish I had time for more gaming; I play Chrono Trigger on my phone on tour. (Laughter)
What’s next for Black Magnet?
Hammontree: Doing a short regional tour in January with Bleached Cross from Chicago. Recording the full record after that. Then touring Europe and playing a fest there in August. Until then, just constantly writing and practicing as a unit.
Photography by Cameron Gene, Hannah Lillard, and Kevin Lorenz – provided courtesy of Black Magnet